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District Meeting

Material for District Discussion Meetings (January)

January 2024

Illustration by ArdeaA / Getty images.

Please base your monthly discussion meeting on one of the following:

1) Writings for Discussion Meetings (pp. 42–43)
2) Buddhist Concepts (pp. 44–45)
3) Material from any recent issue of the World Tribune or Living Buddhism

Have a great meeting!

End the Cycle of Suffering With Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

Writings for Discussion Meetings


Famine occurs as a result of greed, pestilence as a result of foolishness, and warfare as a result of anger. At present the people of Japan number 4,994,828 men and women, all of them different persons but all alike infected by the three poisons.
—“King Rinda,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 989

What Are the Three Poisons?

Daily news headlines report about ongoing war, natural disasters and more, reflecting the impoverished state of our world.

Much like today, in Nichiren Daishonin’s time many people felt powerless in the face of violence, epidemics and other calamities.

When Nichiren wrote “King Rinda” in 1279, the looming threat of a second Mongol invasion struck fear in many. In this letter, he discusses the impact of what Buddhism calls the three poisons while affirming the profound mission he and his followers share to practice and spread the teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, especially in times of turmoil.

The three poisons are:

1) greed: selfish desire, lacking the feeling of inner freedom; delusion about the relationship between self and the environment
2) anger: destructive impulses, perversity, arrogance; delusion about the self in relation to others
3) foolishness: misunderstanding, illusion, misperception, ignorance, lacking wisdom to live correctly; delusion about the law of cause and effect at work in one’s life

Nichiren teaches that in this corrupt age, the Latter Day of the Law, the three poisons are the root cause of unhappiness, polluting people’s lives and preventing them from attaining enlightenment.

In the context of the Ten Worlds,[1] they correspond to the three lower life states of hell, hungry spirits and animals, also called the three evil paths. “Rage is the world of hell, greed is that of hungry spirits, foolishness is that of animals,” Nichiren states (“The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” WND-1, 358).

How to Break the Negative Cycle of the Three Poisons

In the above passage from “King Rinda,” Nichiren writes, “Famine occurs as a result of greed, pestilence as a result of foolishness, and warfare as a result of anger” (WND-1, 989). He also says that while people differ, “all alike [are] infected by the three poisons.”

His words ring true still today. The three poisons are at work in us all, but how strong is their influence over us?

When the three poisons rule people’s lives, the three calamities of famine, epidemics and warfare infect society. As these calamities increase, the three poisons further pollute people’s lives, creating a vicious cycle of suffering and turmoil.

But there is a way to break this incessant cycle.

In chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we activate our Buddhahood—our fundamentally enlightened nature—bringing forth the courage, compassion and wisdom needed to override our greed, anger and foolishness.

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda once said:

On our planet, people kill each other in wars; our economies are based on the survival of the fittest and do not necessarily lead to human happiness; and many of society’s leaders, who by rights ought to help others, instead often look down on and exploit people. And the same kind of thing is found in such spheres as politics, science and religion. Call it humanity’s karma, but society is complex and full of contradictions. Nowhere there can we find the fundamental path to happiness for all people.

Only Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism sets forth the means for fundamentally transforming our karma. It teaches the path of eternity, happiness, true self and purity,[2] the path of lasting fulfillment and satisfaction. There is no higher path in life than this. That is why, if you give your all for the sake of faith, you will never regret it. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 2, pp. 143–44)

Become People of Wisdom, Courage and Compassion

As Nichiren Buddhists, we chant and share Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the “great beneficial medicine”[3] for transforming our lives and world.

As we practice, study and spread Nichiren Buddhism, we enact a fundamental inner transformation, tapping the wisdom to recognize the three poisons, the courage to prevail over these poisons and the compassion to help others free themselves from these three poisons. Ikeda Sensei says:

It is by summoning the courage to reach out to those who are suffering, bringing forth the compassion and wisdom of Buddhism, and actually contributing to others’ happiness that we become genuine people of wisdom. (October 2021 Living Buddhism, p. 57)

Given the many calamities of our world, we should heed Nichiren’s words at the end of “King Rinda”: “But we should consider that what has happened will serve to further spread the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.”

We can transform all poisons and setbacks into “beneficial medicine” and spark momentous change by chanting, sharing and infusing our land with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

Examining the Ten Worlds: Hell—The Lowest World

Buddhist Concepts

Neither the pure land nor hell exists outside oneself; both lie only within one’s own heart. Awakened to this, one is called a Buddha; deluded about it, one is called an ordinary person. The Lotus Sutra reveals this truth, and one who embraces the Lotus Sutra will realize that hell is itself the Land of Tranquil Light.[4]
—Nichiren Daishonin

Many cultures view hell as an underground abyss of eternal torment. In Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, which heavily influenced the Western concept of the underworld, hell’s gates bear the inscription, “Abandon every hope, all you who enter.”[5]

The Nichiren Buddhist perspective of hell, however, departs from themes of fire and brimstone, offering an alternative rooted in hope. Rather than a particular place, hell is a state of life that we can experience at any given moment in our daily lives. People in the state of hell are not doomed to suffer there forever. By “embracing the Lotus Sutra”—chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and sharing it with others—those suffering in hell can free themselves from anguish.

Hell in the Context of the Ten Worlds

Buddhism expounds the principle of the Ten Worlds, ten states or conditions of life that anyone can experience at any given moment.[6] These range from the six lower worlds—characterized by resignation, suffering and easily being influenced by external circumstances—to the four noble worlds—characterized by proactivity and a desire to better oneself and support others.

Within this framework, hell is the lowest of the Ten Worlds.

When in this state of hell, we lack life force and hope, are entirely bound by suffering and see everything around us as a source of misery.

Nichiren Daishonin writes, “Rage is the world of hell.”[7]

Those in hell experience bitter frustration toward themselves and their environment, often reacting with uncontrollable anger or aggression.

Ikeda Sensei writes:

Such people need someone—anyone—to be at their side. They need someone who will be with them and listen to them; someone who will offer even just a few words of encouragement. That’s all it may take for the flame of life to spring up anew in the heart of someone suffering deeply. Just knowing someone cares about them causes their “life space” to expand.

When people have a genuine sense that, no matter how difficult their present circumstances, they are not alone but are vitally connected with others and with the world, they can stand up without fail. This is the power inherent in life. It is important, therefore, that we form good relations, that we develop bonds with people who can have a positive influence on our lives and our Buddhist practice—what we call “good friends.”[8]

We can exit the state of hell by seeking out “good friends” in faith that support our Buddhist practice and becoming such good friends ourselves. Our Buddhist practice contains the key to transforming hellish suffering into joy, freedom and fulfillment.

We Can Transform Hell Into the Land of Tranquil Light

Provisional Buddhist texts teach that the Ten Worlds are separate, fixed realms, offering little hope for those in the lower worlds, especially those in the world of hell.

The Lotus Sutra, however, rejects this perspective, teaching that the highest state of Buddhahood—full of vibrant life force and the resolve to win—also resides in the other nine worlds.

Nichiren teaches that simply by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, anyone can call forth the life state of Buddhahood from within. Sensei writes:

We can manifest the brilliance of the world of Buddhahood anywhere. This is the teaching of Nichiren Buddhism. Our first two presidents, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, united by the bonds of mentor and disciple, demonstrated this with their own lives. In a prison cell that he described as “cold to the extreme,” Mr. Makiguchi wrote, “Depending on one’s frame of mind, even hell can be enjoyable.” And Mr. Toda, who accompanied him to prison, remarked: “Even if I should fall into hell, it wouldn’t matter to me in the least. I would simply share the correct teaching with the inhabitants there and turn it into the Land of Tranquil Light.” This spirit is the very quintessence of faith in Nichiren Buddhism.[9]

In essence, we need not go anywhere to depart from hell. By chanting daimoku and sharing Buddhism with others, we can transform even the despair of hell into the Land of Tranquil Light.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department


  1. Ten Worlds: A classification of ten distinct states of life that forms the foundation for the Buddhist view of life. They are the realms of hell, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, human beings, heavenly beings, voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones, bodhisattvas and Buddhas. ↩︎
  2. Eternity, happiness, true self and purity are the four virtues. Describing the noble qualities of the Buddha’s life, the four are explained as follows: “eternity” means unchanging and eternal; “happiness” means tranquility that transcends all suffering; “true self” means true and intrinsic nature; and “purity” means free of illusion or mistaken conduct. ↩︎
  3. In “How Those Initially Aspiring to the Way,” Nichiren writes: “In such an age of conflict, when the pure Law of the other sutras ceases to be effective, the wonderfully efficacious medicine of the Lotus Sutra will provide the cure for all these grave disasters” (WND-1, 879). ↩︎
  4. “Hell Is the Land of Tranquil Light,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 456. ↩︎
  5. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno from The Portable Dante, translated by Mark Musa (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), p. 14. ↩︎
  6. Ten Worlds: A classification of ten distinct states of life that forms the foundation for the Buddhist view of life. They are the realms of hell, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, human beings, heavenly beings, voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones, bodhisattvas and Buddhas. ↩︎
  7. “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” WND-1, 358. ↩︎
  8. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4, p. 105. ↩︎
  9. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 193. ↩︎

Highlights of the January 2024 Study Material

Key Passages From The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings (Part 5)